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Surgery for Laryngeal Cancer

Treatment options for laryngeal cancer include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and/or surgery to remove all or part of the larynx. This type of surgery is called laryngectomy.

Illustration of throat anatomy
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Laryngectomy can be done in two ways: total laryngectomy to remove the entire larynx and partial laryngectomy to remove part of it. Surgery may also require the removal of some of the muscles in the neck near the larynx.

Other variations and procedures related to laryngectomy include:

  • Surgery to remove only half the larynx, or hemilaryngectomy

  • Surgery to remove the thyroid gland, or thyroidectomy

  • Surgery to remove only the vocal cords, or cordectomy

  • A procedure in which the surface cells are removed from the vocal cords, called vocal cord stripping

  • Laser surgery that uses a laser to remove a tumor or abnormality on the surface of the larynx

  • Surgery that removes only the top portion of the larynx, called supraglottic laryngectomy

  • Surgery to remove the lymph nodes in the neck where cancer has spread, called neck dissection

The type of treatment depends on where the tumor is located, how large the tumor is, and when the cancer is detected. In some people with advanced laryngeal cancer, total laryngectomy to remove the entire larynx may be the only way to effectively treat the disease.

Laryngectomy is often performed in conjunction with other therapies, including chemotherapy and radiation therapy, to destroy the cancer.

What to expect

Total laryngectomy takes away the ability to speak using the vocal cords. A speech therapist will work with you to help you to speak again, but your voice will sound different. If you are unable to speak comfortably, you can be fitted with an electrolarynx, a device that can produce mechanical speech.

The larynx also plays an important role in controlling breathing. When the larynx is removed, surgeons construct a new method of breathing. The surgical team will connect the trachea, which carries air to the lungs, to a hole that is surgically created in the neck. Breathing now occurs through this hole, called a stoma, rather than through the nose and mouth.

The stoma must be properly cared for to prevent problems and complications. Because air is taken directly into the lungs through the stoma rather than passing through the mouth and nose, which help moisturize it, the breathing passages tend to become irritated. Inflammation can cause the passages to produce thick mucus that creates a crusty covering on the stoma. You'll need to regularly remove any mucus or crust buildup on the stoma. Running a humidifier and protecting the stoma with a covering can help reduce mucus production and minimize buildup.

Joining a support group for people who have undergone the same operation will give you access to people experienced in stoma care and the recovery process after laryngeal cancer. 

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